Summary: When suffering for righteousness sake, Christ promises to be with us “In the Midst of Suffering”.
Charles Spurgeon once said that true love is measured by the degree to which the one loving is willing to subject (themselves) to crosses and losses, to suffering and self-denials. With love comes responsibility, and that responsibility is grounded in truth. What disturbs and disillusions those on the outside of Christianity is the imbalance of truth and love they often see among those who profess faith in Christ. Every believer must be committed to sacrificial love grounded in truth (Matt. 16:24–25). If we’re consistent in these things, God is pleased, and the gospel is advanced (Eph. 4:11–16). And if we suffer, it will be for the right reasons. (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/neglect-great-commandment-hinder-great-commission/)
The church at Smyrna displayed the power and purity that comes from successfully enduring persecution. Persecution had purified and purged it from sin and affirmed the reality of its members’ faith. Though they suffered physical hardship and poverty, the Christians at Smyrna clung to their immeasurable spiritual riches. Fittingly, the church at Smyrna is one of the two churches (along with Philadelphia) that received no rebuke in its letter from the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Scripture makes clear, persecution and trials are an inevitable and essential part of the Christian life (Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12). The example of the church at Smyrna instructs all believers on how to properly respond when they come. Hypocrites do not stay to face persecution, because false believers do not want to endure the pain. Trials and persecution strengthen and refine genuine saving faith, but uncover and destroy false faith.
When suffering for righteousness sake, Christ promises to be with us “In the Midst of Suffering”. We can see this promise through His ministry to the Church at Smyrna as seen through: 1) The Church, City and Correspondent (Revelation 2:8), 2) The Commendation (Revelation 2:9), 3) The Command (Revelation 2:10a), and 4) The Counsel (Revelation 2:10b-11).
1) The Church, City and Correspondent (Revelation 2:8)
Revelation 2:8 8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. (ESV)
Scripture does not record the founding of the church at Smyrna, nor is the city mentioned in the book of Acts. All that is revealed about this congregation is contained in this letter. Presumably, a church was planted in Smyrna during Paul’s Ephesian ministry (Acts 19:10), either by Paul himself, or by his converts. Smyrna lays about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus on the east shore of the Aegean Sea. From Ignatius’s letter to Smyrna (early second century a.d.) we learn that the church was already well organized, with a bishop (Polycarp), elders, and deacons. Today, known in Turkey as Izmir, it the only one of the seven cities still in existence in which the letters of Revelation were written to. (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 73). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
At the end of the first century, life was difficult and dangerous for the church at Smyrna. The city, long an ally of Rome, was a hotbed of emperor worship. Under Emperor Domitian, it became a capital offense to refuse to offer the yearly sacrifice to the emperor. Not surprisingly, many Christians faced execution. The Greek word translated “Smyrna” was used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT, to translate the Hebrew word for myrrh, a resinous substance used as a perfume for the living (Matt. 2:11) and the dead (John 19:39). Its association with death perfectly pictures the suffering church at Smyrna. Like myrrh, produced by crushing a fragrant plant, the church at Smyrna, crushed by persecution, gave off a fragrant aroma of faithfulness to God. At Smyrna, unlike Ephesus, there was no waning of love for Jesus Christ. Because the believers at Smyrna loved Him, they remained faithful to Him; because of that faithfulness, they were hated; because they were hated, they were persecuted; that persecution in turn incited them to love Christ more. The point here is that while Smyrna can take away one’s present life, Jesus guarantees one’s future life. A suffering church like Smyrna needed the assurance that their ultimate future was already secure, even though their present lives were distressing (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (pp. 128–129). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.).
As was customary in ancient letters, the writer, or Correspondent identifies Himself at the beginning of the letter, instead of signing His name at the end. The depiction of the writer as the first and the last, who died/was dead, and came to life identifies Him as the glorified, exalted Lord Jesus Christ described by that phrase in the vision of Rev. 1:12–20 (cf. 1:18). The first and the last is an Old Testament title for God (Isa. 44:6; 48:12; cf. 41:4), and its application here (and in 22:13) to Christ affirms His equality of nature with God. He is the eternal, infinite God, who already existed when all things were created, and who will continue to exist after they are destroyed. Jesus Christ transcends time, space, and the creation.